The following is a letter from President James E. Brenneman to the Goshen College community on November 12, 2008. It is reprinted here in conjunction with the current administrative re-examination of Goshen College’s policy of not playing the national anthem at sporting events.
Greetings to you on this mid-November day. I wanted to communicate with all of you about events that have transpired over the last few days that you should be aware of in relation to Goshen College’s long practice of not playing the national anthem before athletic competitions.
Our practice of not playing the national anthem at our sporting events has been a practice of the college since its inception 114 years ago rooted in the nearly 500-year-old confessions of faith of the Mennonite heritage and in the simple New Testament expressions, “Jesus is Lord” and “God so loved the world.” Such an expansive reign and love includes a deep love for our own country, to be sure, but also for the whole world.
At the college, we have decided not to play the national anthem, but instead to start our games with prayer. I do expect our athletes and fans to stand in respect at away games – and to participate if they choose – when the national anthem is sung.
I believe all of us who are citizens of the United States love and honor our country profoundly and are grateful for the blessings of U.S. citizenship. We fly the U.S. flag on campus, annually read the Constitution, honor the Fourth of July as a national holiday by not working, pray for our leaders, and, many of us vote. Some of us pledge allegiance to the flag, sing the national anthem and are veterans of war. Others choose to be conscientious objectors to war, stand silently when the flag is saluted and choose not to sing the national anthem. In honoring the differences, we honor the best of our country.
Two hundred and fifty years before modern democracies enshrined the ideal of separation of church and state in their constitutions, people of strong religious conviction – including Mennonites – were killed for holding fast to that ideal in feudal Europe. They paid a heavy price for their belief. It is this very principle enshrined in the U.S. Constitution that now allows people of faith in the United States to express their differences freely and without coercion. Far from disrespecting our country, Mennonites pay homage to it and love it, precisely because of the freedoms enshrined in its founding documents paid for by those who died to preserve that freedom of faith and conscience. Early Mennonites arrived on these shores in 1683 to help establish early America as a beacon of hope.
To bring this closer to home, in Elkhart County alone, nearly 4,000 Goshen College alumni show their loyalty and love by devoting their lives to our community as teachers, government leaders, doctors, judges, nurses, artisans, farmers and many other service professions.
We are also keenly aware that many of our students come from other countries and represent different religious faiths and 40 different Christian denominations. Our love extends to them as well.
Despite our deeply held convictions, we know there are some who will continue to disagree with our position on the national anthem. If you receive any outside inquiries, please feel free to refer them to the Public Relations Office.
These outside inquiries have provided the opportunity to gather feedback, engage people locally and elsewhere about this issue, and to talk about the distinctive education we offer at Goshen College. We welcome questions about the college – who we are, what we do and what we believe. And we welcome dialogue, which this has encouraged: with people all over the country, with our neighbors in Michiana and especially amongst ourselves. For this, I give thanks.